Mentoring and coaching are both tools within a Knowledge Management Framework, but both commonly overlook the KM role of the mentee.
|"Arland Thornton mentoring 2003" from wikipedia|
Mentoring and coaching are tried and tested ways of transferring knowledge between an older experienced person, and a younger less experienced person. However this relationship can break down, often through lack of involvement or skills of the younger person.
In a recent study for a client we found that knowledge transfer through mentoring was running at about 20% of the efficiency that was needed.
When the relationship broke down, the two sides blamed each other (“he won’t tell me anything”. "he never asks me anything" ), but in reality there were very few incentives in this organisation to build the trusting relationship required for effective coaching.
The issue of accountabilityPart of the problem with the traditional view of mentoring is that accountability for knowledge transfer lies with the coach or mentor. It is written into their job description, they are coached in the process of mentoring, and they take a leading role. The status of "having knowledge" is compounded with the status of "driving the process".
The mentee, on the other hand, plays a passive role, resulting in a process of "Knowledge Push" from mentor to mentee, and little or no Knowledge Pull. We end up with Teaching; not necessarily with Learning. At the same time, the mentor is often still busy doing what he or she sees as "real work", and when push comes to shove, real work takes precedence over mentoring. As far as the coach or mentor is concerned, there isn't much of an incentive to do the coaching.
This is especially true of the experienced person is due to retire. Ineffective transfer of knowledge is "not my problem" as far as the retiree is concerned.
More recently we have been looking at changing this relationship. If the mentee is given an active status, that of a "dedicated learner", and is trained in the skills and processes of knowledge elicitation and interviewing, there is a change in the dynamic. The mentee takes a more active, more leading role - almost like an investigative reporter, or an industrial spy. Ineffective transfer of knowledge needs to be seen as "my problem" as far as the mentee is concerned.
Throuigh training and empowering the mentee, mentoring becomes a learning-driven process, not a teaching-driven process. That learning can be planned, through a learning plan, and monitored and measured. And as he or she learns, then instead of just taking notes in their personal note book, they start to build knowledge assets in the company knowledge base, for their own use and for the use of others. The mentor can review and validate these knowledge assets, and thus cement the learning, and as well as transferring the tacit skills, a documented knowledge base is created at the same time.
Rolls Royce are using this approach as part of their Knowledge Acquisition and Modelling Program (KAMP), and find that the dynamic between the young knowledge seeker and the older knowledge-sharer can be very powerful (see here for more detail). The outcome is knowledge transfer driven by Pull, not Push, which as we know is far more effective.